Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

Mackenzie

Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Organizing for Writing on the iPad

Why do anything unless it is going to be great? -Peter Block

We have been learning about the rainforest and my students are excited and engaged in learning all about the animals in the various layers.  Recently, the students wanted to write about the rainforest and they seemed to be having trouble narrowing their focus.  Someone said, “My brain is all busy with so many animals.”

poppletAs adults, it can often be overwhelming as we try to process large chunks of information.  I have to make lists or use sticky notes to keep it all straight.  We all have different strategies for managing the information and processing it.  Young children need to be taught how to organize themselves and their thoughts for writing.

One of the apps we use as a visual organizer is Popplet LiteIt is a free mapping app that allows you to brainstorm and capture your thoughts quickly.  The full version of Popplet is $4.99 and offers many other options, including online collaboration, however, the lite version is just fine for our uses.  The popplet above, was created by a student to help her organize her thoughts on writing about the rainforest.  She saved that to her camera roll and then imported it into Pages to write.  pages and popplet

This is her first page of writing.  She wants to add a new page for each of the animals shown in her Popplet.  By adding the Popplet to her Pages document, she now has a visual reminder of what she wants to write about. She can just continue to refer back to it.

Each child had a choice in how they wanted to share their knowledge.  Some choose Book Creator, some chose Pic Collage and some chose Pages.  They all went on Safari and found the images they wanted and saved them to their camera roll.  They also had a choice to organize their pre-writing thoughts in Popplet or on paper.

Because they have choice in this activity, they are very engaged and excited to share with each other what they’ve learned.  The finished products will be reflective of their creative energies and knowledge gained.  It will be far superior work than if I had dictated how and what they would do…after all, when they have choice, they take ownership.

If we are going to ask our students to demonstrate what they know, it should be in meaningful ways so that in the very act of demonstration, they are extending their learning.  Getting organized is a great place to start!

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

A Reading Buffet with iPads

Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.  -Stephen Fry

Sunday potluck dinners in the South are awesome.  There is always a huge array of church- lady food.  You know the kind I’m talking about…Miss Ruby’s secret recipe sweet potato casserole, or Miss Ethel’s homemade from scratch coconut cake.  You look down the long table filled with amazing choices and hope the blessing is said quickly and that you’ve got enough space in your stomach to hold a little bit of all of it. You walk away with a plate piled high of a little of this and a little of that.  So much better is this than going to a restaurant where you may have a menu full of choices, but you must settle on only one entree.  Invariably, I always look around once the food arrives and wish I had ordered what someone else ordered.

reading choicesHaving choices in reading is no different than that Sunday covered dish luncheon.  My students have the choice of reading regular books, and they can also read from their iPads.  They have many books both hard copy and electronic to choose from.  They can read from a variety of genres and from a variety of topics on a variety of reading levels.  This is a time when more is definitely…well…more.  Already my kindergarten students are referencing author styles, comparing illustrations, and making connections to other texts with their reading partners.  One student recently asked another, “Do you like Eric Carle’s illustrations better than Dr. Seuss?”

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer states: “People who lose the ability to make choices become disempowered. This is true for adults, and it is true for young readers. When every book a child reads is chosen for them — by parents or teachers — children lose self-motivation to read and interest in reading. Children should choose their own reading material most of the time, but they need exposure to a book flood to determine what books they like and learn how to choose their own books. “

Choices encourage engagement, engagement encourages stamina and stamina teaches the curriculum of time.  Children need to learn to read by reading.  By offering them a veritable table of “covered dish” choices, they don’t have to decide between the sweet potatoes and the mashed potatoes…they can have both.  And isn’t that the best of both worlds?  Pass the gravy y’all…

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